Day 269: A gospel plan!

Nehemiah 11-13; 2 Corinthians 11

Today we come to the end of Nehemiah and to the end of the historical narratives. We have watched God’s covenant promises unfold to His people from the parting of the Red Sea, to the fall of Jericho, to the rise of David and the fall of the nation… We have seen God preserve a remnant out of the exiles in Babylon and read as they returned to first rebuild the temple and then repair the wall around Jerusalem.

In Nehemiah 12 we read of the people celebrating the completion of the wall. There was much joy in Jerusalem (Neh. 12:43)!

But as soon as Nehemiah left (to attend to the Persian king), everything fell apart. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to find that the people did not provide for the Levites, so the Levites had left the temple to work their land. One of the priests had let Nehemiah’s enemy, Tobiah, stay in one of the temple’s chambers. The people were buying and selling in Jerusalem each Sabbath, and worst of all, they were intermarrying with foreign women.

Nehemiah did his best to make things right. But you have to believe that even Nehemiah’s best wasn’t good enough to overcome the people’s sin nature. They needed a Savior – not a political savior – but a savior to change their hearts – to give them a heart of flesh – so as to change them from the inside out!

This is the gospel – that God sent his Son to satisfy the law on our behalf. As we trust in him for our salvation, His Spirit enters and regenerates our hearts. This is the beautiful mystery. This is the gospel!

And it is this gospel that Paul is so fiercely defending in 2 Corinthians 11. For false teachers had infiltrated the church and were turning his flock away from the true gospel. Paul was forced to boast in his qualifications to persuade the Corinthians to not be deceived by the false teachers in their midst.

Ironically, Paul boasts in his weakness as proof of his apostleship! This is the beauty of the gospel!!! We come to God as weak sinners in desperate need to be saved. We come to him as law-breakers and he receives us, and forgives us and breathes His life into our dry bones. We can boast in our weakness, for when we are weak, He can be strong through us.

Poor Nehemiah was fighting an impossible battle. The people would spiral away from the law eventually. It was inevitable…but God had a plan! And it was a gospel plan!!

Day 268: The joy of the Lord

Nehemiah 8-10

These chapters in Nehemiah are a foretaste of the final restoration we will experience in the new heaven and new earth! They depict the beautiful renewed relationship between God and His people. It begins with the people assembling together to hear the reading of the Law.

This was an important occasion. They had even built a platform on which Ezra would stand as he read. And as he read, the Levites were stationed throughout the crowd to ensure the people understood!

They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (Nehemiah 8:8).

After hearing and understanding the Law, the people wept over their sin (Neh. 8:9). This response from the people proves that they really understood what was read. Because then they could see how great their sin and the sins of their forefathers really were.

But Ezra and Nehemiah told the people not to weep – it was to be a day of celebration! The people were to rejoice over their renewed relationship with their God. It is in this context that Nehemiah says the well-known verse… “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).

What was the source of God’s joy? The humble repentance of His people!!

After the priests recounted Israel’s long and troublesome history (Neh. 9), they renewed their covenant relationship with God by committing to uphold the Mosaic Law (Neh. 10).

The gospel is found in the vivid details of this passage. God’s word should cause us to grieve over our sin. But we have a God who really loves us. We can approach His throne to find grace and forgiveness because of the value He places on His relationship with us! He rejoices over our repentance. He is happy to renew and restore us… And from God’s joy, we are given the strength to stand – forgiven – in His presence! 

May our penitent hearts be his joy, and may His grace be our strength!

Day 267: Fighting the opposition

Nehemiah 6-7; 2 Corinthians 10

Today, both Nehemiah and Paul address their opposition…directly.

Remember, Paul is writing to the Corinthian church because opponents to his ministry had infiltrated the church and caused a large rebellion against Paul. Paul spent the first seven chapters of 2 Corinthians refuting his opponents indirectly, but now he shifts his focus to address them directly.

Paul’s opponents judged him by the world’s standards. Because Paul was meek in appearance and manner, his opponents discounted his apostolic authority – while boasting in their own worldly attributes. But Paul refutes their criticisms by pointing to his spiritual abilities and the fact that he was appointed by God himself.

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends (2 Corinthians 10:17).

Meanwhile, Nehemiah is dealing with his own opposition. Sanballat and Tobiah just won’t go away! They continue to try to trap Nehemiah both physically and morally to bring about his downfall. But Nehemiah rebukes their efforts and much to their displeasure, finishes the wall in spite of the opposition!

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God (Nehemiah 6:15-16).

Did you catch that last phrase? With the help of our God”!!

This is the key to both Paul’s and Nehemiah’s ability to overcome their fierce opposition. They were called, equipped and undergirded by their God. They trusted in God despite their grave circumstances. In other words, they fixed their eyes on what was unseen. “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

Lord, when I am faced with opposition, help me to not be discouraged! But rather, help me to look to the unseen realm…help me to fix my eyes on Jesus and persevere in faith as I wait for Your sure help!

Day 266: Greed

Nehemiah 4-5; 2 Corinthians 9

Nehemiah faced opposition from both outside Jerusalem (Neh. 4) and inside Jerusalem (Neh. 5).

The foreign oppressors, Sanballat and Tobiah, hurled insults and threats toward Jerusalem… Why? They hungered for power and lusted for control. Whereas the people within the walls were opposing each other as the Jewish nobles were oppressing their own poor. The rich were taking advantage of the fact that everyone was working on the walls and not cultivating their land. Without a crop, there was no money – so the rich nobles were lending money to the farmers and charging interest.

Greed. Nehemiah was fighting the effects of greed – both from the foreigners and within the Jewish community. As we read in today’s passages, Nehemiah fought it effectively. Through his fine leadership, he refused to give power to the oppressor’s taunts and persuaded the nobles to return the interest charged and land to the Jewish peasants. He motivated them by exhorting them to fear the God that brought them out of slavery!

Greed is a powerful sin. It builds deep roots in our hearts and works together with fear to seduce and deceive.

Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9. Paul is continuing his request from Chapter 8…that the church give generously to their needy brothers in Jerusalem. But there is great potential to twist these verses to satisfy the greed in our hearts. Consider verses 6 & 10…

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Cor. 9:6).

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness (2 Cor. 9:10).

Many have used these verses to teach, “If you give abundantly, then God will ‘multiply’ and give to you abundantly.” But that is using greed as a motivator for giving. NO! These verses only promise to multiply our righteousness, not our wallets! 

It is true that “God loves a cheerful giver.” But the cheer that pleases God is from your willingness to give sacrificially – not from your expectation to receive in return!

For our God owns a cattle on a thousand hills. He has no need for our money! But he does want our hearts. And so many times, our hearts are entangled with the sin of love of money.

If God has generously provided for you abundantly – it is not for your security’s sake – but that you might emulate Him in providing for others. For God “has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (2 Cor. 9:9).

He is our loving Father. We can trust Him – even with our money!

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Cor. 9:8).

Day 265: Leadership (Biblical-style), pt. 2

Nehemiah 1-2; 2 Corinthians 8

Today we move on to Nehemiah, the sequel to Ezra. If Ezra was Israel’s spiritual leader, then Nehemiah was very much their political leader. In fact, Nehemiah’s godly example of leadership is one of the primary themes that runs throughout his book.

Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king of Persia and learned about Jerusalem’s great trouble and the ruined state of her walls. Nehemiah’s first course of action was to pray (Neh. 1:4) and then he waited for months (Neh. 1:1, 2:1) for an opportunity to ask the king for help.

This is the first of many instances where Nehemiah shows wisdom and patience in dealing with his fellow-man. Nehemiah is not impulsive – but uses careful observation and humble persuasion to lead effectively. After he wisely gains the kings help and favor, he arrives in Jerusalem. Again he exercises patience and wisdom as he waits for the appropriate time to inspect the walls alone. He does this to be better prepared to lead and organize the people (Neh. 2:11-16).

We see the positive results of his preparations in Chapter 3 as the author systematically lists each section of the wall and what group of people were responsible for rebuilding. Nehemiah not only persuaded the people to commit to a great work but organized and equipped them to complete the task.

Meanwhile. Paul exercises his own leadership skills in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians 8. He is working to persuade the church to give generously to the needy in Jerusalem. Again, Paul uses patience and wisdom in how he asks.. He doesn’t ask at the beginning of the letter, but rather waits until after he lays a foundation of truth for the Corinthians church. He first defends his apostolic ministry. then teaches the truths of eternal perspective and finally, commends the church for their repentance. Only after he has created a clear context does he ask the church to complete their work of giving to the needy in Jerusalem.

Neither Paul nor Nehemiah was manipulative – but used patience, insight and wisdom to influence people to do what was right and glorifying to God. They were effective leaders – bringing much glory to God!